Thursday, November 12, 2009


I’m five days into my new novel—six, if you count Saturday, my day off—and I’m finding the journey to be tricky on an emotional level.

I’ve decided to write what I call a What If memoir. The story is grounded in my real life, but picks up at a point where there was a fork in the road and, much to the chagrin of Robert Frost, I took the path more traveled. Yes, Robert, that too has made all the difference.

Twenty years ago, I’d gone to Malibu, California to enter law school. From the outset, I wasn’t certain that becoming an attorney was really my life’s path, but I had a full scholarship and it was in Malibu. Hey, things could be a lot worse for a twenty-four-year-old who still hadn’t a clue about what he wanted to be when he grew up.

Truth is, I did have a clue. I just never dared share it. Silly dreams are cute when you’re seven. I want to be an NHL hockey player. I want to become an Osmond. I want to be an elf. (Two out of three of those were my childhood aspirations. Too embarrassed to confess outright, I’ll just say that I’ve never had an interest in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Or Utah.)

My impractical grownup dream was to become a writer. Specifically, I wanted to write for television and movies. I’d written my first screenplay shortly after undergrad and I studied dialog and plot from television shows the same way I devoured college texts two weeks before finals.

But I wasn’t a Coppola, I didn’t have an uncle who had a friend whose third cousin went to high school with Ron Howard’s dry cleaner and I didn’t have the dashing good looks of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. I didn’t have an in. I could write the next “Annie Hall” (or the next “Police Academy”) and never get my break.

I was raised to be practical. Abandoning one career (as a teacher) was only acceptable because I was pursuing a more highly esteemed career as a lawyer. (What’s wrong with that statement?!) I think subconsciously I headed for Malibu to pursue my writing dream or, at least for starters, experience a little Hollywood immersion.

My first year of law school was grueling—at least that’s what all of us pampered law students believed and, if everyone said it, it had to be true. Sure, I studied a lot, but some of that time was spent reading my casebooks at the beach. (Never could shake all the sand out of them!) And there was still time for plenty of dinners at trendy restaurants where we shared ample amounts of wine and whine.

I enjoyed studying law. I had a couple study partners who were exceptionally driven to succeed and I don’t think they rubbed off on me; frankly, I was just a like-minded individual. Yet, when the first year of law school concluded and my grades were ridiculously high, I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I knew the best thing for me would be to quit and pursue something that might become a possibility.

I met with an official from the law school and she talked me into staying, promising that I’d have so many other career opportunities once I earned my law degree. I didn’t buy it, but not knowing what to do instead, I stayed on. I did increase my course load so that I graduated a semester early. It was a consolation to myself, the law school fraud.

What if I’d quit? What if I’d pursued writing (and waiting tables or selling knockoff handbags on Venice Beach or whatever was required to pay the rent)?

That’s where my novel begins. What makes it so emotional draining is I have to dwell on that moment in time. And everything before that key moment provides context to everything thereafter so I find myself recalling so many experiences with so many friends that I cannot find on Facebook or through Google search channels. (Trust me, I’ve been trying a lot over the past week!)

I seem to honor these dear people as I write, but any regrets I have are not about my law school decision; rather, they’re focused on losing touch with remarkable people who continue to impact me two decades later.

My nostalgic trip isn’t all heavy. There’s a backdrop of movies, television and songs of the time. As I write, I pop in cassettes by Mariah (back when she just dressed badly, not trashy), Simply Red and Wilson Phillips. I’ve YouTubed Cathy Dennis and Milli Vanilli and Wikipedia-ed “L.A. Law” and “Ghost”. I’ve almost been tempted to run out and rent “Rocky V”. Almost.

Good times. Why does it take hindsight to realize how good?

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